EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT ANTIQUE CHINA CABINETS
As one of the stalwart examples of traditional brown furniture, China cabinets have been through their collective ups and downs with style seekers, edging fresh and zeitgeisty in some decades and prohibitively antiquated-feeling in others. Yet few furniture pieces top this centuries-old workhorse when it comes to their ability to display heirlooms aplenty—from traditional blue willow china to rainbow gradient glass collections. China cabinets also possess the unique ability to add panache to the oft-overlooked venue of the dining room. For those who’ve adopted a china cabinet hutch into their homes, they’ll be the first to attest that there’s a dynamic energy that only a China cabinet can bring to a room.
China cabinets originated in England at the end of the 17th century. Their ascent coincided with the rise in popularity of porcelain china. Designed to be a treasury for these bequeathal breakables, China cabinets skewed a bit more hedonistic than other oak and pine cabinets of the day, with their glass-fronted doors intended to show off the exquisite commodities within. Early China cabinets were wooden china cabinets and ranged in style from Chippendale to Queen Anne and, later, Federalist and Georgian style. Most showcase a simple construction composed of a hutch, often enclosed with glass-fronted doors, set atop a bank of drawers or a cabinet-style base. Some, depending on the style, feature detailing like leaded glass panes or finials.
Part of the conundrum of the China cabinet is what to stow inside of it now that porcelain china has been replaced with elevated, everyday dinnerware that doesn't denote a holiday. A plethora of shelving and stacks of drawers means the merits of refurbished china cabinets remain high—the only question is: how do you style one so that it doesn’t feel like a glaring anachronism? Some have opted to remove a China cabinet’s doors to procure a more casual, open shelving scenario. Lined with stacks of white dishes and peppered with accents like serving bowls, heirloom salt and pepper shakers, and incidentals like gravy boats, the China cabinet transforms into a well-stocked one-stop-shop for all things dining-related. To inspire more China cabinet contemporary makeovers, consider any of the options below.
Paint the Interior or Exterior of a China Cabinet
An antique oak China cabinet can take on new ebullience with a simple coat of paint, but the look can be a little trickier to pull off than slapping the reigning Pantone color of the year on your light wood china cabinet. Trending kitchen cabinet colors can help field inspiration for China cabinets, and basic shades like black, gray, and white are fairly fool-proof. The latter neutrals can sometimes run the risk of feeling a bit austere, so if you’re making a play for a more standout look, you may consider painting the interior of your China cabinet a contrasting hue. Shades of gray and aqua partner beautifully with a black or white exterior, as do softer shades like a beige, buff, or ecru. When choosing an interior paint color, it can be of benefit to consider what you’ll be stocking inside your china cabinet. Silver, for instance, gleams against a backdrop of red or yellow, and blue Spodeware looks radiant against cerulean blue.
**Wallpaper the Interior of a China Cabinet”
A wallpapered China cabinet interior will act much like a mural, making this sleight of hand perfect for those who dare to dabble in drama, without making a major commitment. Wallpaper makes the biggest impact when it’s cozied up against rich hues, so consider this tactic for China cabinet hutches you’re already considering sprucing with paint. Choose scroll-y toiles and Chinoiserie motifs for more traditional cabinets like Queen Annes, or even shapely Federalist cabinets. A Chinese Chippendale cabinet’s fretwork can be played up with a geometric paper, or even a simple quatrefoil print. China cabinets with wallpapered interiors, especially small China cabinets, do require a reserved hand when it comes to styling their contents. Restraint is key to ensuring a wallpaper doesn't result in visual clutter.
Load Up on Monochromatic Contents
At best, china cabinets outfitted with carefully assembled China place settings look a bit fusty, at worse, like a scannable wedding registry display on the sales floor of Saks. Which is all to say; how you choose to fill your China cabinet matters. Most designers won’t advise you against displaying China in your China cabinet, but they are likely to advise employing a bit of color synchronization to evoke a modern mood. Especially China cabinets that are more visually intricate, like Mission style cabinets or Chinese Chippendale cabinets (especially those with fret-worked glass), can benefit from monochromatic contents. Consider filling a Mission-style cabinet with items that adhere to a vibrant turquoise palette, or—for those feeling even more radical—burnt orange. Relatively unadorned China cabinets are champion candidates for experimenting with color gradation. A white China cabinet can be decked out with a full spectrum of rainbow glassware to curate the ultimate eye-catching look.
Drape the Interior of a China Cabinet With Curtains
In truth, not all of us are exhibitionists, and sometimes a China cabinet’s transparent doors just seem downright daunting. If you’re among those who would rather shirk from putting personal collectibles on display, consider dressing a China cabinet’s windows with tension-pleated drapes. Adhere one tension rod just above your China cabinet's window top and another on the bottom. From there, pull a panel of fabric taught between the two to create a polished, pleated effect. Traditional cabinets tend to make the most befitting partner for the look, as do cabinets with shapely window cut-outs or windows overlaid with lead or wood fretwork.
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